One of the prettiest places to visit in the Netherlands is Utrecht, which is only a short train ride to the southeast of Amsterdam. It was formerly the country’s center of religion and culture, with a stunning medieval town pierced by the charming Oudegracht canal. As a result, you can visit several intriguing historical and cultural tourist attractions there. Here are the 10 best things to do in Utrecht, including Huis Doorn, Museum Speelklok, Castle De Haar, and more.
Utrecht: The Principal Political, Economic, And Cultural Centers Of The Netherlands
The capital of the same-named province and the Netherlands’ fourth-largest city, Utrecht, is where the country’s fenlands and sandy heathlands meet. Due to the heathlands’ higher location and distance from the North Sea’s frequently disastrous storm tides, this position has aided the town’s development through the years.
Utrecht has long been regarded as one of the Netherlands’ major political, economic, and cultural hubs. In addition, it is the location of a renowned university founded in 1636 and the administrative center for the province.
The lovely Old Town, with its numerous ancient buildings and canals around and cutting through them, contributes significantly to the economy and draws a lot of tourists all year long. It’s a very pleasant city to stroll around after dark, especially during the popular KNUS Winter Market and Festival (held in the weeks leading up to Christmas) and the city’s customary Christmas Market, which is hosted in the Mariaplaats.
Numerous outstanding museums and galleries are dispersed around the city, and the numerous live music venues host a diverse lineup of touring bands, DJs, and artists. Utrecht, the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands, has a wide variety of activities that will keep you occupied.
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10 Best Things To Do In Utrecht
Discover Oudegracht, the “Old Canal” of Utrecht
Exploring the stunning Oudegracht is a highlight of any trip to Utrecht (Old canal). This engineering masterpiece passes through the city’s heart, making it the ideal location for a leisurely stroll or if you have the time, a sightseeing cruise or kayaking experience.
The canal begins in the southeast corner of the city and follows a portion of the original path of the Rhine. Segments of a canal connecting the Rhine and the River Vecht were created around AD 1000 and are in the northern section of the Oudegracht.
The canal’s sides started to be populated once Utrecht’s network of locks was finished in 1275, and several quays, wharves, and warehouses were erected. Today, many of these historic structures and their cellars have been transformed into eateries, coffee shops, galleries, and boutique stores.
Check out St. Martin’s Cathedral
St. Martin’s Cathedral is located on Cathedral Square, or the Domplein, in the center of Utrecht. This magnificent structure is considered one of the most significant churches in The Netherlands and is most frequently referred to by locals as the Dom Church (Domkerk).
Highlights include a number of ancient tombs, and a vault said to include the internal organs of Conrad II and Henry IV, two emperors who passed away in Utrecht. The charming 14th-century cloister that connects the cathedral and university is noteworthy. The patron saint of the building, St. Martin, is shown in scenes above its windows, and the fountain in the middle of the lovely Cloister Garden features a bronze statue of a monk.
While visiting the cathedral is still among the best free activities in Utrecht, you can spend a little money on a delectable meal in the on-site tearoom. Sunday services are open to guests as well.
Take a kayak tour of Utrecht
The Oudegracht and the other attractive canals of the city are best seen from the water. Unquestionably, the well-known Utrecht Kayak Tour is among the best of these excursions. This enjoyable excursion starts with an educational tour of the city’s rich history from your English-speaking guide and leaves from Domplein, the Old City’s main square, in the late afternoon.
Once in your two-person kayak, you may paddle by some of the city’s most famous monuments at a leisurely speed while getting unusual perspectives of them. Paddling through the city’s ancient “ring-canal” while stopping for refreshments at the Weerdsluis locks in the middle is one of the excursion’s highlights.
The next step is to take a tour of the Old Canal’s length, stopping along the route to learn some of the intriguing tales associated with the historic mansions and wharves you pass. Your tour cost also includes a handy waterproof barrel for storing valuables and a life vest, in addition to beverages and kayak use.
Visit the Museum Speelklok
Museum Speelklok, or Musical Clock Museum in English, is one of Utrecht’s most well-known tourist destinations. Museum Speelklok is devoted to music boxes, barrel organs, and other devices and instruments capable of creating music without human intervention. Museum Speelklok, which opened its doors in 1956, features home instruments ranging in size from tiny music boxes to enormous fair organs, most of which may still be played, as well as mechanical musical instruments from the 18th century to the present.
Other features include the chance to see restoration work being done in the workshops, as well as specimens of musical clocks, pianolas, and a turret clock with a carillon in Museum Speelklok.
Sonnenborgh Observatory is an intriguing machine-themed attraction that is more of a scientific nature (Museum Sterrenwacht Sonnenborgh). Seeing this old building in action is one of the highlights of a visit to this partial museum, a partially operational observatory.
Utrecht University Botanic Gardens
Visits to the Utrecht University Botanic Gardens are enjoyable diversions for people with green thumbs or for those who merely appreciate attractive green landscapes and gardens. This lovely 22-acre park, centered around the old abandoned Fort Hoofddijk, is relatively recent (it was built in the late 20th century), yet it can trace its origins back to the early years of the university in the 17th century.
There are a total of six different gardens to visit. Favorites include the Bee Hotel, with its wide variety of pollinating insects, and the Birders Den, which is well-liked by bird watchers, as one might expect. Also to explore are the tropical greenhouses.
The gardens are accessible from spring until December.
Visit the Railway Museum and Take a Train Ride
Train enthusiasts must visit Utrecht’s Railway Museum (Spoorwegmuseum), the nation’s national railroad museum, which is housed at the former Maliebaan train station. This sizable, well-stocked tourist destination was founded in 1927, and its highlights include a cross-section of the nation’s transit history, particularly its railroads and tram networks, with lots of models and vintage cars to admire along the way.
The early days of railroads, including their glory in the 1900s, are covered in exhibits, together with a working workshop. Kids will enjoy the model railroad and playground in addition to the museum’s excellent collection of locomotives (which includes nine well-preserved steam engines) and rolling stock.
Climb the Cathedral Tower, the Domtoren
The Dom Tower, the medieval cathedral tower, towers over Utrecht’s historic center (or Domtoren). After the disastrous storm of 1674, this enormous structure was severed from the Cathedral of St. Martin. It was constructed between 1320 and 1382, is a little over 112 meters tall, and contains a remarkable carillon of 50 bells, some of which are over 400 years old. And don’t forget to visit the building at night when it is dramatically lit up.
On a clear day, you can see as far as Rotterdam and Amsterdam (remember, it’s a flat nation!). Its observation galleries provide superb panoramic views of the old city and the Domplein. The tower is still the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. The 465-step hike is worthwhile because you’ll get a close-up view of the bells. Only possible as a part of a guided tour, the climb is definitely worth the cost.
DOMUnder and stroll across Cathedral Square
Utrecht features a lot of old public squares, like many other Dutch historic cities. Cathedral Square, though, is by far the most significant (Domplein, or “Dom Square”). It is a great area to explore, especially because of the many charming old buildings that frame the famous St. Martin’s Cathedral.
Along with the cathedral and the impressive Dom Tower (Domtoren), this area is home to the Utrecht University building, which is attractive and colorful, as well as the Utrecht Tourist Information Office, which is a great place to start your exploration due to its friendly staff and helpful tourist resources.
This is also where you can find DOMUnder, a novel new exhibit that is one of the city’s newest attractions. The intriguing self-guided tour, as the name implies, takes you beneath Cathedral Square on an adventurous trip that reveals the remnants of the city’s rich 2,000+ year history.
House of the Kaiser: Huis Doorn
The final residence of German Emperor Wilhelm II, Huis Doorn, is located in the charming tiny town of Doorn (known in English as Doorn Manor). The Kaiser, exiled after losing World War I, bought Huis Doorn in 1920 and remained there until he died in 1941 at 82 (he is interred there in a tomb on the grounds). The mansion, originally a medieval castle, was reconstructed in the 18th century in classical style, with only minor changes made afterward.
Huis Doorn, situated in a sizable and lovely park, first became a public museum in 1956. Huis Doorn has been meticulously preserved, down to the original furniture and furnishings, the Kaiser’s personal belongings (including a collection of snuff boxes that belonged to Frederick the Great), uniforms, photos, and paintings.
Visit De Haar Castle
De Haar Castle (Kasteel De Haar), designed by Dutch architect PJH Cuypers, is not only the biggest castle in the Netherlands but is also regarded as the most beautiful due to its fantastical appearance. Because of its size, the entire community of Haarzuilens had to be relocated to build it in 1822. The castle, which is only 16 kilometers west of Utrecht, is worth visiting for its sizable collection of artifacts, furniture, paintings, and tapestries, as well as its lavish interior decoration, which includes elaborate wood carvings and tableware and rare Japanese coach made especially for women.
There are 135 acres of tree-lined grounds to explore, as well as fountains and a stunning formal garden. This location frequently hosts festivals and events, such as the yearly Country & Christmas Fair. Anyone looking for mementos can find them in the on-site shop.
The majestic Zuylen Castle is located in the charming village of Oud-Zuilen, just a short drive northwest of Utrecht (Slot Zuylen). The current building dates from 1510. However, its origins go back to the 1200s. Modifications were completed in the middle of the 18th century. Only by guided tour, but the opportunity to view this beautifully restored estate is well worth it.